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Chain of custody: Talking forensics with Kyle PD
Posted By Free Press Contributor On February 20, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In Featured,For Front Page Use,Neighbors | No Comments
by KIM HILSENBECK
Ever wondered what happens when law enforcement officers take evidence from a crime scene?
After talking about forensic science with students from a Lehman High School class (see story on page 3B), we thought it would be interesting to learn more about evidence processing in the real world.
The Hays Free Press spoke with Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett, along with Det. Jacob Luria and Maryann Palomares, about how evidence is handled and what happens with it once it’s removed from the scene of the crime.
“It would be great if everything got done in 27 minutes like they see on TV,” Luria said. “But a lot of times things can take up to a year to get back.”
In the interim, Luria said victims ask, “where’s my case?”
But he said it’s a waiting game.
“We’re solely dependent on the crime labs we use,” Luria said.
For narcotics, Luria said they use the Austin Police Department. They use the Department of Public Safety (DPS), also in Austin, for computers, sexual assault kits, blood alcohol, fingerprints and basically everything that doesn’t fall under narcotics.
He said the lab they use in Austin generally has faster turnaround than the DPS lab but only because DPS processes evidence for so many agencies across the state.
“The turnaround can be up to a year to get certain pieces of evidence back,” he said.
But before anything can be processed, it has to be collected and handled properly.
Luria discussed the scenario if there were a drug bust on Interstate-35. He said Kyle police officers would take any evidence from that stop to the department’s evidence room, properly package it for analysis and determine which lab to send it to for processing.
Kyle police officers keep supplies such as fingerprint kits, evidence bags and simple drug testing kits in their vehicles. They can do some quick drug assessments so they know what they’re dealing with and how to proceed with the suspect. But any evidence that needs analysis is sent to one of the two labs mentioned.
How do they decide what steps to take?
“It depends on what it is in terms of how we handle and package it,” Barnett added.
Barnett said his officers are trained at a basic level to collect fingerprints.
Luria said if officers take a suspect’s cell phone, they’re not so concerned about wearing latex gloves because it’s not a biohazard. But if evidence is blood or anything biological, the officers have to wear gloves because the biggest factor is safety for their officers.
However, evidence that must be sent for DNA testing follows different protocols.
“You don’t want to breathe on it, don’t want to transfer oils (like from fingers),” Luria said. “So there are definitely cross contamination issues,” he said.
Luria said Kyle officers understand how to handle evidence and follow the procedures.
“For example, you don’t put biological evidence in plastic because of moisture; that will degrade it,” Luria said. If it’s wet and bloody you have to package it so it dries properly.”
He said other departments across the country have been embarrassed when a fingerprint comes back and it’s the officer’s and not the perpetrator’s.
“Then they know the evidence was not properly handled,” Luria said.
According to Burnett, deciding where the items go for processing is based on the intended analysis of the evidence.
“Sometimes you want to check fingerprints on the packet of drugs,” Luria said, “but sometimes you just need to test for what kind of drugs were seized.”
Every crime scene has its own procedures; bullets, knives, drugs, blood, guns, digital and electronic devices – Luria said each item has to be handled in a particular manner and order to protect the evidence.
For example, an officer may try to lift fingerprints from a soda bottle but that might ruin the DNA on the inside, so the DNA swab would be done first and then the fingerprints.
“We have to decide where it goes first and how it’s handled,” Luria said.
Regardless of the items and possible analysis, each piece of evidence is entered into the department’s records management system and logged into the evidence room. The chain of custody should never be broken – so items go straight from the crime scene to the evidence room.
“We also bar code so every item is tracked at each step in the process,” Luria said.
This also helps, for example, if the Hays County District Attorney’s office signs out evidence, it’s all tracked, there’s a record.
“When I started it was all written in a notebook so it’s come a long way,” Luria said. “There is more accountability.”
What many people seem to want to know, Luria said, is do things work like they do on those crime shows on TV?
“The whole process involves a lot more people and resources than people think; lab, officers, transport, the DAs office – it’s a very involved process; it’s a multi-person function,” he said.
And though Luria said the DPS lab just added another five analysts, they need 10 more.
Or perhaps we need less crime?
“Yes, that’s the other side of it,” he said.
Article printed from The Hays Free Press: http://haysfreepress.com
URL to article: http://haysfreepress.com/2013/02/20/52242/
URLs in this post:
 Image: http://haysfreepress.com/2013/02/20/52242/2-20-13-chain-of-custody-evidence-processing-photo-2/
 Kyle Police Department puts Mobile Command Unit to use: http://haysfreepress.com/2012/10/17/kyle-police-department-puts-mobile-command-unit-to-use/
 Kyle police nab second suspect in vehicle burglary spike: http://haysfreepress.com/2011/06/22/kyle-police-nab-second-suspect-in-vehicle-burglary-spike/
 Kyle Police apprehend car burglars in the act: http://haysfreepress.com/2012/12/12/kyle-police-apprehend-car-burglars-in-the-act/
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